Surely writing a review of a comics conference is on par with dancing about architecture? Text seems such an impoverished medium now – unequipped to condense three days into anything like a reasonable representation of the event. As unaccompanied text, “diverse”, “exciting” and “passionate” sound somewhat fatuous – the reviewer’s equivalent of multiple exclamation marks or a string of emoticons. A series of comic-panel vignettes really would be so much better.
If I did this review as a comic, “diverse” would be replaced with pages showing the work of artists like Karrie Fransman, Elodie Durand and Ian Kirkpatrick. In a comic, “exciting” would be replaced by quick-cut series of panels of Daniel Merlin Goodbrey flicking through a stream of digital-format comics, each one more inventive than the last. In a comic, “passionate” would be replaced with speech-bubbles from the intense, disquieting, sometimes overwhelmingly honest talks by Andrew Godfrey, Paula Knight and Katie Green.
In a comic, I could draw us attendees not just sitting in the two conference halls, but also gathering together in small, intense conversations in the pubs afterwards. I could show all of us hurriedly scribbling ideas away on the backs of our conference folders. I could show us flipping the pages of our programmes back and forth, trying to decide which of the conflicting sessions to attend – and then trying to sneak between the A room and the B room to catch as much of each set of speakers as we could.
In a comic, I could show how Comics Forum was a place not just for those who read comics – not even just for those who write comics, but for those who collect, study and archive comics; for those who know where comics have been, and those who are deciding where comics are going. For those who are making comics – literally – as if their lives depended on it, and those who are making sure that the rest of the world knows how important those comics really are. And perhaps, most importantly, in a comic I could have a big panel (running across two pages, probably) showing all these different people – the academics, the curators, the collectors, the writers, the illustrators – talking to each other, exchanging ideas, coming up with new ways of working together, new ways of studying, collecting, curating, writing and illustrating comics.
In a comic, I could then devote another double-page spread to Thought Bubble, and show all those people from the conference – all the academics, the collectors, the writers and the illustrators – rubbing shoulders with comics fans, heroes and cosplayers. That double-page spread would look fantastic: Bryan Talbot and Adam Hughes, Nicola Streeten and the launch of Nelson, all those roller-derby girls, the wonky Wookies and the slightly-overweight Stormtroopers, Judge Dredd and his hobnobs, the steampunk captain and his teapot; small press, medium press, no press; teeshirts, badges, CDs, DVDs; graphic novels, newspapers and hand-bound ‘zines; two halls filled with everything that’s great about comics.
At this point in my comic I’d probably step in as a character myself – do that fourth wall thing and talk about my favourite bits about Comics Forum. I’d talk about how there was something particularly exciting about being involved in a conference like Comics Forum where people are still passionate about what they write and draw and why they do it. At most conferences you know exactly what you’re going to get – and most speakers, chairs and questioners say exactly what you expect them to say. Not at Comics Forum: the best thing about it was probably that you didn’t know what was coming next. Arguments? Shouting matches? You want that at a conference – you want people to be taking this stuff seriously. You want to know you’re surrounded by people who have a real sense of commitment to the medium – who shout and argue because they’re passionate about it, because they – well, because they believe in it, I guess.
If I was writing this review as a comic, I could show all that. I could show you just how diverse, how exciting, how passionate it was. I could show you how much I enjoyed it, how much I want to come back next year, how I want it to be longer, so I can talk to everyone and go to all the sessions.
Yeah. If I was writing this review as a comic, that’s what I’d do – I’d show you all that stuff. But I suppose you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or go to Comics Forum 2012 and see for yourself.
John Swogger is an archaeological illustrator and co-author of the comic book “Something Different About Dad”, about living with a parent with Asperger Syndrome. He is currently writing a comic book memoir about his experiences working as an archaeologist on stone age sites in Turkey.